Prevalence of Nut Allergies
Roughly three million Americans are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.), making this type of allergy one of the most common food allergies in children and adults. Although the exact reason why some people are susceptible to nut allergies is unknown, there does appear to be a genetic element, as siblings of children who have a nut allergy are several times more likely than average to develop a nut allergy. In the case of peanut allergies, there are at least seven proteins in peanuts that invoke the immune response causes allergy symptoms.
Most nut allergies present at an early age. In fact, young children are more likely to suffer a nut allergy than are adults. About 20 percent of children who are allergic to peanuts more or less outgrow this allergy prior to adulthood, whereas only about 10 percent of children who are allergic to tree nuts do the same. Roughly 8 percent of people who seemingly outgrow a peanut allergy have one or more allergic recurrences in later life.
Common nut allergy symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin problems, such as rashes and hives, for example
- Diarrhea and stomach cramps
- Itching around the mouth and throat
- Chest tightening
- Nasal drip
In the worst of cases, an allergic reaction results in the often life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis. Signs that a person is experiencing anaphylaxis include extreme breathing difficulties, swelling of the face, sudden drop in blood pressure, and fainting. A person having any of these problems should be taken to a hospital emergency room without delay.
Many people who suffer from a nut allergy experience one or more of these symptoms whenever they eat the particular nut or nuts to which they are allergic. Some of these people can experience allergic symptoms at times when they ingest even trace amounts of the offending nut or they can experience them merely by inhaling the nut (such as what might occur when peanut oil cooking spray is used, for example). In any event, an allergic reaction may occur immediately following contact with an offending nut or it may take some time, such as a few hours, for example, to develop.
Products Containing Nuts
A significant problem faced by those who are allergic to nuts is that it is difficult to avoid products that contain them. Indeed, nuts or their oils are found in some:
- Foods, such as crackers, cookies, cereals, energy bars, salad dressings, and ice cream, among many others
- Alcoholic beverages
- Body lotions
- Beauty products
Adding to this problem, some products do not mention that they contain nuts. A person who is allergic must take great care, such as contacting the companies that make them to inquire whether nuts are present, for example, to ensure that they do not ingest or otherwise use products that contain nuts.
D. Fleischer, The natural history of peanut and tree nut allergy, Current allergy and asthma reports, 7:175-181 (2007).
Food Allergy Initiative, Peanut Allergy: https://www.faiusa.org/?page=peanuts
Food Allergy Initiative, Tree Nut Allergy: https://www.faiusa.org/?page=treenuts
Mayo Clinic, Peanut Allergy: https://www.mayoclinic.com/print/peanut-allergy/DS00710/METHOD=print&DSECTION=all
S.H. Sicherer et al., Prevalence of peanut and tree nut allergy in the US determined by random digit dial telephone survey, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 103:559-563 (1999).